A Very Special Father: Father's Day Lesson
| Teaching House Nomads Blog
Father's day is celebrated in many countries on the third Sunday of June each year. This is a day where families spend time with their fathers or father figures, and often give them presents, cards and might treat them to special meals or do their chores for them. My step-son makes toast for his dad every year on this day and fluffs up the sofa cushions for him. Bearing in mind that learners may have lost their father, may never have known their father or may wish to become a father, this lesson is only loosely related to father’s day, and is built around an amusing story from an authentic source to help learners develop their listening comprehension skills and ability to work out the meaning of unfamiliar words from their context.
The story is from a radio show / podcast called “This American Life”, which is a great source of interesting real-life stories from all over the USA and beyond. It’s a story about a child who wakes up while the “tooth fairy” is sneaking money under her pillow in exchange for her recently fallen-out tooth. It’s her dad. She thinks that she has made this amazing discovery that her father is the tooth fairy and imagines him working his normal job by day and his second career as a tooth fairy by night.
The lesson starts with a discussion of mythical characters that children believe in around the world to raise interest, set the scene for the lesson and ensure a certain level of background knowledge on the topic. It’s also a good idea to tell learners what they will be listening to, i.e. a radio interview between the story teller (Rebecca) and the presenter (Ira Glass). Listening without activating this world knowledge, or schemata, can make listening much more difficult for learners, and also makes the experience more artificial: in the real world when language users listen, we know whether we’re listening to a news broadcast or eavesdropping on a conversation in a restaurant! In the classroom, we should always afford our learners this contextual knowledge so that they aren’t listening in the dark as it were.
Next the learners listen to the text with a fairly basic question which is the crux of the whole story: “who does Rebecca think the tooth fairy is?. This question is answered fairly early on in the story so you could stop the audio after the answer is revealed, but it can be nice now and then to let learners listen to the whole text once all the way through as they would in their everyday lives, even without a specific comprehension task. It’s an endearing story and in my experience of using this lesson, learners enjoy listening to the text for its own sake. There are comprehension questions for the second time they listen, which help guide learners to a fuller understanding of the whole story. If learners struggle with these, why not give them the transcript and listen one more time so they can be supported with their understanding? Reading along as they listen can help with comprehension and it can also raise awareness of how the pronunciation of English is quite often very different from the written form.
The next task is a crossword puzzle where learners are given clues to the meaning of vocabulary and then have to find it in the transcript of the text. This helps develop their ability to find out the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary by using the context of the text, a skill that will help them when listening and reading outside of the classroom and therefore helps foster learner independence. If they struggle, it can be a good idea to ask guiding questions like (for swapping) “did he take the tooth? What did he put there instead? Is it a verb or an adjective?” rather than giving them the answer directly.
The final speaking task asks students to think of a myth or white lie that their parents may have told them when they were children, and can lead to a lively discussion. Personal stories are inherently interesting to tell and also to listen to, as the people they relate to are right there in the class with us! If you don’t have an example, you can use mine: my dad used to tell me that when the ice cream van played its music, that meant they had run out of ice cream. How mean?
Anyway, I hope you and your learners enjoy this lesson and find it beneficial for listening to authentic audio texts in future. Let us know how you got on in the comments.